Author Archives: Darragh McManus

I have (yet another) NEW BOOK OUT!

We’re now running about nine months behind schedule on my (perhaps overly ambitious) plans to release one new book a month to Kindle, beginning last summer with YA adventure Red Raven. Still, not to worry – art can’t be rushed, and genius does what it must. Or something.

Anyway, I’ve now got to Book Number 5 and it is, in some ways, the best thing I’ve ever done. First written all the way back in the winter of 2004-’05, The Driving Force is a collection of short stories on a theme of movement (be that literal or metaphorical). It’s quite avant-garde so won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s probably the single thing in my entire writing career, such as it is, that I’m most proud of. There are moments in this collection, here and there, where I come across a line, a paragraph, an insight or something else, and think, “Yeah – this genuinely stands comparison with the great writers I admire.”

Among them are Don DeLillo and JG Ballard, who are probably – maybe? – the biggest influences on The Driving Force, in theme and tone. But here’s the spooky part: for years I was pitching this book like that, citing JG and Big Don. It was only a few years ago that it dawned on me, I actually never read Ballard until AFTER I’d written The Driving Force. (Got into him sometime around 2006, if I recall right, and since then have devoured more-or-less everything he ever wrote. Yes, even The Atrocity Exhibition.)

How weird is that? I guess the great man’s groundbreaking ideas had percolated so deeply into the culture that I was absorbing and replicating them, even without reading his actual work. Which, of itself, sounds like it could be a JG Ballard story . . .

But we’re now in danger of falling down some bizarre metatextual wormhole here altogether, so I’d better stop. Read more about The Driving Force (plus a sample story, the longest and last and one of the best) here and buy a copy here.

I don’t HAVE a new book out . . . but I’m IN a new book

Don’t worry, they haven’t decided to introduce me as a character in the Jack Reacher novels . . . yet. (I could be Jack’s “streetwise” Irish “sidekick”, who helps him “crack cases” and “bring the pain” while being charming and poetic in a wistful, slightly sozzled way. You know where to reach me, Lee Child . . .)

No, the new book of which I speak is Brevity is the Soul, a collection of comic short stories from Dublin-based Liberties Press. Last year they ran a competition, judged by well-known funnyman Kevin Gildea; I didn’t win (boo) but did make the cut for inclusion in this resultant book (woohoo). My story – replete with the sensationally good title, Diary of an Expedition to Leave My Bed and Venture Downstairs to Find Sustenance in the Form of Coffee and Biscuits – is basically a piss-take of all those Ernest Shackleton-type tales of exploratory heroism and derring-do. And it’s FANTASTIC. As is the whole book, sure. But my story, Jesus Christ, I mean it’s BRILLIANT. Honestly.

Anyway check out for more . . . and feel free to buy several thousand copies. I thank you.


Finally, and only about three months behind schedule, I’ve got round to uploading the fourth of six planned books to Kindle. Pretend We’re Dead is a sweet-natured, funny and nostalgic dip into one summer in the lives of a motley crew of slackers in mid-1990s Ireland.

I started this story aaaaaaaaaaaages ago – literally, it was far closer to the millennium than the present day – or, to be precise, the autumn of 2003. And, funnily enough, it began life as a film script. A handful of people really liked this original version of Pretend We’re Dead, and John Crowley – of Brooklyn and True Detective fame – was nice enough to chat for an hour on the phone about it, after I took a flyer and posted it to his agent. (This really happened!) He had a lot of kind words about the quality of my script, but ultimately wasn’t interested in producing it as a movie…and unfortunately, neither was anyone else.

So, around 2012 – this is all so long in the fast-receding past now, I genuinely don’t remember exactly when – I decided to retool Pretend We’re Dead as a novel. Expanded some scenes, reduced others, added new ones, filled in the background and coloured in the scenery around the original dialogue and basic screenplay instructions. It’s essentially the same story, but obviously quite different in tone and rhythm. Hopefully still has a fairly visual sense at the same time.

Anyway, read all about Pretend We’re Dead here and buy a copy here. You won’t regret it, like.

A list of possible Christmas-themed horror movies

Halloween is my favourite time of the year, and Christmas would definitely be in the top four or five. Maybe even top three, depending on which Bond movie is showing.

Given all this, and my concurrent love for horror, I’ve always felt there was a dearth of festive scary movies. Krampus was good, and The Santa Clause is horrifying for entirely different reasons. But that’s not enough, dammit.

So I’ve taken it upon myself to come up with some scare-iffic ideas for Christmas horror flicks. As in, the title of some Christmas horror flicks. When it comes to either genre of cinema, horror or Christmas, that’s really all you need. The rest generally takes care of itself.

The full list is below. You can thank me/pay me in your own time, Hollywood. (Yeah, a voucher is fine.)

  1. Jingle Hell
  2. Rudolph the Dead-Nosed Brain Deer
  3. Santa Claws
  4. ‘Twas the Fright Before Christmas
  5. Deck the Halls…in Blood!
  6. We Wish You a Scary Christmas and a Happy New Fear
  7. Violent Night
  8. ‘Tis the Season to Be…Dead
  9. Strangle Bells
  10. Lashing Through the Snow
  11. The Three Wise De-men
  12. You Better Not Cry
  13. Should Auld Acquaintance Be Dismembered
  14. Ghoul-tide Greetings
  15. Cracker Attacker
  16. I Saw Mommy Killing Santa Claus
  17. Flay Bells Ring
  18. Laughing All the Way…to Hell
  19. One-horse Open Slay
  20. He Knows When You Are Sleeping
  21. Gristletoe
  22. Your Nuts Roasting on an Open Fire
  23. Reindeer Maims
  24. He’s Making a Kill-List
  25. Satan Claus
  26. Gold Frankincense and Myrrh-der
  27. Baby It’s Dead Cold Outside
  28. Christmas Evil
  29. Oh Come All Ye Hateful
  30. Hack Frost Ripping Off Your Nose
  31. Black X-Mass
  32. The Ghost of Christmas Slashed
  33. Season’s Beatings
  34. All I Want for Christmas is Your Head on a Spike
  35. Little Town of Deathlehem
  36. Oh Holy Nightmare


Sorry for shouting (yes, again). The third of six books I’m uploading to Kindle has just been, well, uploaded. BTW I’d originally intended to do this about once a month, but work and personal commitments mean we’re running around six weeks behind schedule – so it goes.

Anyway here we are, and here is !!SuperHyperMEGASTAR!! Yes, those are four exclamation marks you see – including two before the word. I know, that’s not correct punctuation in English, but it’s absolutely necessary…as you will see when you read my fantastic book.

(As prep for that, read all about it here and then buy a copy here.)

!!SuperHyperMEGASTAR!! is a comedy, set in a fictional suburban town outside Dublin, about a girl with big dreams of stardom in stand-up comedy. Unfortunately, Neasa can’t actually perform any of the great material she writes, so she ropes in gifted actor (and complete airhead) Karl Donaghy to play the “role” of comedian. I’ve described it as a cross between Cyrano de Bergerac and The X-Factor.

Does that sound fun? Well, it is fun. !!SuperHyperMEGASTAR!! is fun and funny and sweet and smart-assed…and just the right balance of incredibly dumb and actually quite clever. So go read it, now. I said now! What are you waiting for, an invitation?

As before, keep an eye out, here and at my Amazon author page, for updates on further Kindle releases. Still to come: Pretend We’re Dead, a novel about slackers in 1990s Cork; The Driving Force, a short-story collection on a theme of movement; and There is a light and it never goes out, a sort of Cloud Atlas-type thing where five stories are wrapped inside one over-arching narrative.

That’s it. I’ll sign off with my usual declaration: hope you buy a copy or ten of !!SuperHyperMEGASTAR!!…and hope you enjoy it.



Sorry for shouting (again). As promised/threatened last month, I’ve just uploaded the second of six new works of fiction to Amazon Kindle. This one is Devil Hang Over Me, a tight, menacing and (he said with all humility) extremely well-written thriller with not one, not two, but THREE fantastic twists. (Actually, it might even be four – I lost track.)

Anyway you can read all about Devil here or buy a copy here.

Meanwhile here – as in here on this page, like – I’ll give a small bit of background on where it all came from. I had the opening scene in my mind for years. Two women wake from drugged sleep, trapped in a white room. Neither knows the other, or why and how they came to be there. No way in or out. What the hell is going on?

Initially, it had been a man and (slightly younger) woman. For various reasons, as you shall gradually realise if/when you read Devil, the sex of one character got changed. The motivation – the ultimate end-game being played here – has remained the same over years of writing and rewriting, but some of the details were radically altered.

I’m proud of Devil, I think it’s a damn good psychological/suspense thriller, with some nice literary flourishes. I’m most proud of the fact that, when you reach the end and understand who everyone is and what’s been going on, you can then reread over it and each line of dialogue, everything said and done by the two women inside that room, takes on a new colour, a new shape – new meaning.

Anyway, mindly interesting sidenote: originally (from late 2017) I sent this book out under a pseudonym. For a number of reasons, I didn’t want it published under my own name, so MD Burgess was born (my wife’s and my first-name initials, plus the surname of Anthony Burgess, one of the greatest geniuses in literary history IMHO).

Unfortunately, neither a publisher nor agent took the book on, although there were a few close calls. One very kind lady in England offered to publish digitally, but a family situation got in the way for a while and by the time I was ready to rock, she’d moved on from that role.

On the flipside, one Scottish publisher basically accused me of trying to “game” their submission process by sending in under an assumed name! Which was simultaneously insulting and amusing. I probably should have told her to “f**k off, how dare you accuse me of cheating”; sadly, being a powerless author, you have to suck it up sometimes and play nice with the so-called gatekeepers.

That said, I’m now doing it myself, so here’s a belated response to Scottish publishing woman: f**k off, how dare you accuse me of cheating! Ha. That felt good 🙂

Keep an eye out, here and at my Amazon author page, for updates on further Kindle releases. We’ve still got these beauties (!) to look forward to: !!SuperHyperMEGASTAR!!, a comedy/satire which crosses The X-Factor with Cyrano de Bergerac; Pretend We’re Dead, a novel about slackers in 1990s Cork; The Driving Force, a short-story collection on a theme of movement; and There is a light and it never goes out, a sort of Cloud Atlas-type thing where five stories are wrapped inside one over-arching narrative.

That’s it. As before, I hope you buy a copy or ten of Devil Hang Over Me, and hope you enjoy it…


Sorry for shouting, but it’s been quite a while – November 2014, to be precise – since the last one. So even a jaded, cynical old curmudgeon like me is allowed to get a small bit excited about a new book (the first of six on the way).

It’s called Red Raven, it’s a Young Adult urban fantasy which mashes up Buffy, superhero comics, Crouching Tiger and ancient Celtic mythology – and it’s as good as that sounds.

The Irish Independent graciously ran a piece about my adventures in self-publishing last weekend, which you can read by clicking here. Or why not just buy it here – ’tis cheap at the price.

Meanwhile keep an eye on this website and my Amazon author page: I’ll be uploading five more books, roughly once a month, from early July. They’ve been sitting on my hard-drive for long enough now, Amazon is free = why the hell not. The other books are: Devil Hang Over Me, a psychological thriller; !!SuperHyperMEGASTAR!!, a comedy/satire which crosses The X-Factor with Cyrano de Bergerac; Pretend We’re Dead, a novel about slackers in 1990s Cork; The Driving Force, a short-story collection on a theme of movement; and There is a light and it never goes out, a sort of Cloud Atlas-type thing where five stories are wrapped inside one over-arching narrative.

That’s it. I hope you buy a copy or ten of Red Raven, and hope you enjoy it…

The brighter side of lockdown



Rutger Bregman is one of those people whose vaulting achievements, at such a young age, are enough to make you seethe with envy.

Still only 32, the Dutch historian and activist has three bestselling books under his belt. His TED talk on poverty has been watched millions of times. Last year he went viral after a cri de coeur about corporate responsibility at Davos.

But even an embittered old crank like me finds it hard to dredge up hostility towards Bregman, because he’s just so damn reasonable. What he says makes a lot of sense. He lays out his case calmly, backed with plenty of facts and figures. Much of it is inarguable.

Bregman’s shtick is a sort of heightened optimism, as can be gleaned from book titles: 2013’s Utopia for Realists and the just-published Humankind: A Hopeful History. People, he argues, are essentially good, or at least tend more towards good than bad. We always have been; this is why a group of intelligent apes managed to colonise the whole planet.

Bregman stresses that his position is not naïve, simply realistic. Co-operation, sympathy, common decency: these are not only moral imperatives, they work far better than the chaotic, violent alternative.

Crucially, though, most of us don’t see it like that. There’s a huge mental disjunction between how things are – on the whole, pretty good – and how we perceive them. Life, in short, is a lot better than we think, and we’d do well to stop focusing on the bad stuff and instead be more optimistic.

This seems so obvious, it’s nearly glib; yet it remains true, for all that. As the old song urged, accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.

While reading Humankind, for review in this paper, I inevitably got thinking about the notion of optimism in a time of lockdown. These are strange, unsettling days, particularly as it’s all so uncertain: we don’t know when, how or even if this will end.

The whole thing has been fairly stressful but, per Bregman, there are upsides too. Indeed, there are benefits to almost everything. Sometimes it’s just a matter of choosing to recognise them, and give them the proper weight in your mind. So, a personal list of some positives to lockdown:

  • The environment got cleaner. We’ve seen wild boar roaming the streets of Paris, jellyfish in the limpid waters of Venice canals, satellite photos showing clear skies over China.
  • People have reassessed their lives and priorities. Whether that be personal or professional, and whether the change prove transitory or permanent, periodic self-reflection is necessary and beneficial. The unexamined life is not worth living, as the man says.
  • The population, here and abroad, was never as fit. For want of anything better to do, people are walking, jogging, cycling. Bike sales are at an all-time high. Organised sport may be off the menu and our TV screens, and that’s a pain – but ultimately, it’s probably better to get out and be active yourself.
  • The chance to get reacquainted with some relatively obscure but exceptional radio programmes. For example, Vox Nostra on Lyric FM, a marvellous compendium of medieval, renaissance and baroque music, both secular and sacred. It’s like stepping into another time, another world. Would it be hyperbole to describe the experience as verging on transcendental on occasion? Probably, but what the hell – these are hyperbolic times.
  • More time with our children. Yes, it’s often hard going (for me the main difficulty is managing schoolwork; I’ll be happy once summer holidays “officially” begin and parenting more-or-less consists of “run outside and play, mind the cars, don’t run off with the circus”). But it’s worth it, as are most difficult things. As Milton wrote, “Long is the way, and hard, that out of Hell leads up to the light…” Feel free to quote that in your English essay, kids.
  • Watching my little girl’s camogie skills improve, markedly, week by week has been very satisfying. Five or ten minutes a day, every day: that’s all it takes to mastering the technique. The older lad, meanwhile, is now hitting cleanly in the air, on the run, both sides. Pick that one out, goalie.
  • You smoke less when you’re around your kids all day, and still valiantly maintaining the fiction that “Dada used to smoke, the odd time, but hasn’t had a cigarette in years…”
  • I finally managed to read The Scarlet Letter, which had been glaring balefully at me from the bookshelf for years. It was close to torture, I have to confess – God, why did they write in that needlessly convoluted and flowery way back then? – but I did it. Finnegans Wake can wait until the next lockdown, though. I’m only human, after all.




It’s funny, when I think back to years ago, how people would often greet each other with the words, “Well, how are you – keeping busy?” That’s funny because life in Ireland really did used to be considerably slower than it is nowadays, and often, we weren’t very busy at all.

The term “keeping busy?”, then, was more a figure of speech than an actual question demanding a response. If we were to answer, it’d probably be something like, “Uh…no. Not really, no. In fact, I’m decidedly un-busy, if such a word exists.”

In 2019 Ireland, the whole thing has been turned on its head. These days nobody who considers themselves cool uses folksy turns of phrase such as “keeping busy?”

They all greet each other with “Hey, guys!” in a stupid put-on accent, because they watch way too many videos of American vloggers and are secretly ashamed of the fact that they grew up in a bungalow outside Kinnegad. (They also hate that their parents, those irredeemably gauche bog-trotters, still cheerily use “keeping busy?” Like, the embarrassment!)

But I digress. The second part of my ironical diptych is the fact that, in direct contradistinction to our 1980s and ‘90s forebears, life in Ireland now is incredibly busy. I mean, ridiculously so – especially if you have children aged anywhere between about three and 18.

This is the time of year when, along with returning to school – which brings its own time-pressures – extra-curricular “activities” are also cranking back into gear. From last week to the end of this month, most of our little darlings’ classes and pastimes will have returned in full flow.

And my God, it’s like trying to arrange a land invasion of Afghanistan. In fact part of me suspects that certain geopolitical string-pullers deliberately engineer wholesale warfare just so they can avoid helping Mrs String-Puller sort out little Johnny and Mary String-Puller’s calendars.

It’s mad, how busy the whirl of our children’s lives has become. I only have two of my own, and there are two grown-ups sharing the load here.

But still, I had to sit down and literally draw out a chart, noting down each activity’s day, starting and end times, and what date it begins. You also have to mark down what needs to be brought to school the following morning: sports gear, musical instrument, whatever. Even with this clear, geometrical, easy-to-understand diagram, I’m barely able to keep up.

And my nippers wouldn’t be the busiest in their year, by any manner of means. Some kids seem to have pre-school, after-school and evening classes, of some sort, each night of the week, with a few thrown in on Saturdays and Sundays for good measure.

Then there are playdates, organised birthday parties and sundry road-trips of an educational and/or inspirational nature at weekends, which make you feel even more like the kids’ social secretary and personal assistant than their mam or dad. (You’re also the unpaid maid, chauffeur, chef, laundrette, psychotherapist and general all-round emotional punch-bag. Ah, the magic of parenthood…)

Now obviously you don’t want the children to do nothing but sit in front of the telly all day; a life not spent being at least some bit busy is only a life half-lived. It is objectively a good thing for kids to learn music, sport, self-defence, chess, art and so on and so forth. I have no disagreement with any of that.

Still, though – I wonder has the balance tipped too far in the other direction? I refer you back to my activities wall-chart for an answer.

I bet my own parents didn’t have a chart on their wall for me and my siblings, and there were six of us. Of course, this is because the only extracurricular activities available during my childhood were standing outside in the cold, standing outside in the rain, being given jobs to do, being given a clip around the ear for reasons of varying degrees of plausibility, asking your parents for things and being refused, sharing a smoke with whichever of the local yahoos was closest to you in age, and staring into space at mass on a Sunday. No need for a chart!

I’m half-thinking about taking up taekwondo this winter – basically, I want to quit being such a wuss and get to the point where I can take a belt to the head without crying like a big baby. Mentioning this the other day, one of my children asked why I hadn’t done martial arts as a kid.

Reader, I laughed. (Bitter tears.) Dada never did taekwondo, I told them, because back in the 1980s the nearest class was probably in Los Angeles. Though those local yahoos with the cigarettes were handy enough with the old kicks to the head, now that I think of it.

All that’s about to change, though, as I finally get the chance to transform myself from soft office-wimp to steely, fists-of-fury type killing machine. All I need to do is find an empty slot on that wall-chart.

ARCHIVE PIECE: Hell is learning how to drive



Instructors with BO problems, undiplomatic language in telling people they’d failed and a refusal to conduct the test through Irish: just some of 1700 complaints about the driving test received by the RSA in 2018.

Some objections were disturbing, some a bit histrionic, and at least one – the chap who allegedly lay flat on the passenger seat, thus weirding out the testee – was downright surreal. For myself, as someone who crashed and burned in spectacular fashion during my first driving test, I think my primary complaint would have been this: couldn’t you have invented a time-machine and gone back a decade to order me to learn how to drive in my teens?

You see, I was one of those people who left it late. Twenty-nine when I started learning to drive, and as anyone who’s taken up guitar after about 20 will attest, certain things are much harder the older you get.

I don’t know if it’s to do with brain wiring, muscle inelasticity or age-related laziness, but it’s a fact. Learning to drive was probably the most difficult thing I’ve done in my entire adult life.

I’m not just talking about the test, which is what most people moan about the loudest. That first fail was a horrendous experience, for sure, but funnily enough, when I did the resit 10 months later, I sailed through – by that point I’d been driving long enough, and well enough, that I knew it’d be fine.

I’m talking about the many, many times I thought (or wailed aloud), “I’ll never be able to do this!”, and really believed it. I think it was my wife who gave me the solid advice, “Everyone who keeps at it is eventually able to drive. Just keep telling yourself it’s nothing more than a serious of simple mechanical procedures.”

Which, after all, is mostly what driving entails. Turn key, depress clutch, into gear, ease off clutch and nudge accelerator, and off you go.

After a while it becomes second nature; you’re almost driving with one part of your brain while another part has a conversation or watches scenery roll past.

I do understand why city-dwellers never learn to drive: there’s no need much of the time, and it must be even more stressful when surrounded by thousands of vehicles, having to master both the car and a bewildering array of signs, lights and lane changes.

But I’m very glad I did, mostly because it gives you a tremendous sense of psychological freedom. If worst comes to worst – say there’s a zombie apocalypse, coupled with a global ebola pandemic – at least, you think, I can get into a car and move myself somewhere else. You’re not reliant on trains, taxis or getting a lift.

Anyway, now that I’ve been motoring for 15 years, I’ve learned a thing or two. So I’ve worked up five “rules of the road”: key pieces of information every wannabe roadster should know. This isn’t information that’ll help you pass the test – but once you’ve got that precious little card, please bear in mind:

  1. You will almost certainly never have to reverse around a corner. This is, for some reason, part of the test – as far as I can recall, an inability to pull it off resulted in an automatic fail – but it just doesn’t happen in real life. You’ll always be able to go forward, do a three-point (or five- or whatever it takes) turn, and bob’s your uncle.
  2. Parallel parking is impossible. I’ve driven around for ten minutes to find a space I can drive or reverse into, because I simply cannot parallel park. I don’t actually believe anyone can, it’s all a myth.
  3. Driving is one of the best ways of listening to music. Something shapeless and atmospheric is best: electronica, jazz, orchestral soundtracks. Really makes you feel as if you’re in a movie, en route to some thrilling and potentially deadly rendezvous. At the moment I’m rocking a compilation album of Depeche Mode remixes, which gives a cool, Blade Runner-esque futuristic vibe.
  4. It’s pointless getting upset or enraged at other drivers. It’s pointless shouting: you’re both encased in steel-and-glass bubbles, they can’t hear you. It’s pointless giving them the finger, they’re not looking. We still do these things anyway. And yes, the cliché is true: anyone else driving slower than you is “that idiot!”, anyone driving faster is “that maniac!”
  5. Everyone, even careful and experience road users, is prone to reckless behaviour. In the last month alone I’ve witnessed drivers overtaking on squiggly bends, closing their eyes for five seconds to win a dare, lighting a cigarette and changing the CD while steering with their knees, answering calls on their mobile, making calls, sending texts, checking the internet for weather updates, and reversing at speed without using the mirrors. Or the back window. Or looking around at all, really. Granted, that driver was me, but you take my point. So be careful out there.